The following article was published in the
Good Old Boat magazine,
Issue 30 (May/June 2003)
All about Yves
in an Alberg 30
by Karen Larson
fail the writer who would describe Yves Gélinas. Maverick? Free spirit?
Innovator? Genius? Adventurer? Dreamer? One who achieves his dreams? He
deserves all of these appellations and more.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, Yves started
his professional career there as an actor and filmmaker. But he closed the
book on that career with a dramatic last chapter: he set out to sail around
the world solo and non-stop while starring in his own film about the trip.
Why would anyone choose to sail around
the world without stopping to smell the roses along the way? Yves says he
needed sponsorship to make the trip, and the only way to interest potential
sponsors was by doing something a bit daring. "No one would have given a
cent for a conventional tradewind circumnavigation," he points out.
In making this voyage, Yves says he
was attempting to succeed at an art form combining many disciplines. "This
was my performance," he notes, " . . . completing a circumnavigation,
writing a book [published in French only so far], making the film [With
Jean-du-Sud Around the World - a marvellous piece of work available for
some time and now also on DVD and videotape], making the windvane, and
sailing the boat." His film won many awards even though the trip was not
concluded as Yves had hoped. His Alberg 30, Jean-du-Sud, was rolled
and dismasted in the Pacific Ocean, cutting the circumnavigation into two
"Yves says he needed sponsorship to
make the trip, and the only way to interest potential sponsors was by doing
something a bit daring."
After repairing the mast (by himself
and in the middle of nowhere, it should be noted) Yves concluded his trip -
a total of 282 sailing days - and completed his film. The year was 1983. But
his interests were no longer in filmmaking. This man was a sailor, an
interest that led to a new career as the manufacturer and distributor of an
integrated self-steering windvane of his own design - the one that had taken
him around the world with no hand steering once he was outside of a harbor.
Because of his own experience with it, Yves guarantees his CapeHorn
Windvane for 28,000 miles or a circumnavigation. Whichever comes first.
No one sails without encountering breakdowns. This actor-turned-sailor was
fortunate to have a natural mechanical aptitude to make up for a lack of
formal training. He had made it his mission first to prepare an Alberg 30
for a circumnavigation, then to invent the windvane to steer her, and
finally to repair all breakdowns while under way, including the mast and
water generator. About that generator: using the tools and materials at hand
while at sea, he simply fabricated a new propeller. Wouldn't anyone?
His boat preparations involved making
Jean-du-Sud nearly unsinkable by creating five watertight
compartments using the four existing bulkheads. He reinforced the portlights
with Lexan windows bolted on outside. He strengthened the cabin-top. He
removed the Atomic 4 and gas tank to make room for storage. (Years later,
Yves still sails this boat and has since added a 9.9-hp outboard.) He built
a new mast. He beefed up the rigging. He created weathercloths that would
break loose if the boat were pooped by large seas, and he developed an
innovative dodger that could withstand a knockdown or onslaught by a heavy
sea without being crushed.
Referring to his windvane design, Yves
says, "I had been thinking of the design of a wind-operated self-steering
system for as long as I had been cruising under sail: I have always
considered that there were more interesting things to do than be stuck at
the helm." Yves created his self-steering windvane since he lacked
confidence in the windvanes that were available at the time.
In looking back more than a decade, he says, "I introduced the third
generation in self-steering." He credits Blondie Hasler with developing the
first-generation vane, which worked on the servo-pendulum concept. But, Yves
says, "A feathering windvane could never produce an impulsion greater than
the course deviation." Like the first version, the next innovation was also
created for a singlehander sailing in the OSTAR. The newer design was used by
Eric Tabarly's Pen Duick IV. This one was created by French engineer
Marcel Gianoli, who found that if the axis of the windvane were brought
close to horizontal (rather than vertical), the impulse produced for a given
course deviation would be much greater, allowing a smaller vane to steer
with greater precision.
"The system I designed for
Jean-du-Sud integrates the self-steering into the boat [Note the Cape
Horn's much smaller support structure
-Ed.]. It also integrates all steering modes: hand, wind, and
autopilot. Third generation," Yves says. "This was the third vane I had
designed and built for my own use. This prototype kept course upwind or
downwind, at Force 2 or Force 10, under spinnaker, under trysail, through
Cape Horn swells, even under jury rig after I was capsized and dismasted."
"I have always considered that there
were more interesting things to do than be stuck at the helm."
It was Yves' fervent hope that the
mast he had built in St. Malo, France, before beginning his voyage would be
strong enough to withstand a rollover. He sold his Alberg 30 mast to help
pay for a new and stronger mast extrusion. He created a double-spreader rig,
fabricating the fittings himself and replacing 1/4-inch rigging with 7-mm
wire. "It was bullet-proof," he says. "But later I learned I had made one
mistake." At the time of the rollover two lower shroud chainplates pulled
out of the deck, he says. They should have been more strongly attached.
Of the rollover, Yves says, "The boat is small. I couldn't fall far." In his
tumble in the cabin, Yves accidentally hit the bilge-pump switch, turning it
on. "By the time I looked, the bilge was dry," he recalls. But the view that
awaited him outside the cabin was another matter. "I saw the gooseneck, but
I couldn't believe the mast was broken. The break was at the first
spreaders. The shrouds were cutting the rail. I didn't want to jettison this
mast. I knew every rivet by name, and I couldn't afford another one.
Eventually I had to dive to tie a line around the mast and winch it up."
The nearest land was 150 miles to
windward, naturally. Yves made it there under jury rig and hauled his boat
out. He got a piece of the original mast extrusion from the boatyard in St.
Malo and created an inner sleeve with which to splice the two sections
Fast forward to 1989. Yves had become
a Canadian national hero upon completion of his voyage. Halfway through the
trip he was something of a "cause célèbre" when he went missing for many
days following the dismasting. Without a mast, he lost communication for
long enough to make headlines from one end of Canada to the other.
He had no money, but he did have a
product he had tested and believed in strongly. "I started CapeHorn without
any money and with just the tools I had on the boat," he says. "At first I
had the work subcontracted, and I would sneak into the shop to see how they
used the tools to build it and even what tools they were using.
Eventually I traded a windvane for a lathe. I built the first 60 units
myself. Later I hired my nephew, Éric Sicotte, who was out of a job. These
days, he builds the vanes, and he is as interested in the success of this
company as I am. He is very meticulous. I am very lucky. At 64, I am able to
take time off for sailing in the summer."
Lucky is the word Yves would choose to
describe his life. But the writer is still beset with the problem of the
correct word that will describe Yves himself.
Suite : My Destiny as a Sailor